How to Avoid Sitting During the Workday

For many of us, life is like a big game of musical chairs. From one chair to the next we progress through the various stages of life, sitting through it all.

We start in highchairs, then move to office chairs and eventually end up in rocking chairs. Sitting is an undeniable – and seemingly unimportant – part of life.

But stop for a moment and think about how much time you spend seated. Then consider that sitting too much can kill you.

Don’t Sit This One Out

Research shows that sitting for long periods of time contributes to risks of metabolic syndrome, heart attack and stroke. In addition, sitting more than six hours per day makes you 40 percent more likely to die within 15 years than someone who sits less than three hours per day, even if you exercise, eat healthy and are not overweight. Yes – even if you exercise!

Researchers at the American Cancer Society found that even if you exercise nearly every day, those health benefits can be virtually undone if you spend the rest of your time sitting. Individuals who are seated for most of the day typically have lower life expectancies, slower metabolisms and suffer from chronic ailments such as back, neck and shoulder pain.

To Sit Or Not To Sit?

Sitting less is easier said than done for the majority of the U.S. workforce. Most organizational cultures instill a structure that requires employees to remain seated at their desks or around conference tables for the greater part of a typical eight-hour workday. And then there’s the commute to and from work. We don’t always have 15 minutes to spare for a leisurely walk around the block. Sitting is dangerous both in the literal sense as mentioned above, but also for businesses because productivity slows the longer employees are seated at their desks. Organizations must find ways to encourage their employees to be active throughout the day and break the cycle of sitting. Their lives depend on it.

Stand Up For Your Life

There are a number of ways we can prevent the symptoms of sitting from getting the best of us, including taking breaks from work to walk around the office, using an exercise ball in place of an office chair and stretching our neck, arms and legs to keep the muscles active and metabolism up. I prefer to avoid sitting all together and have compiled a list of four ways to fight the culture of sitting:

  1. Standing Desks: Whether it’s the do-it-yourself version where you put your chair on top of your desk, a podium, or the real thing, standing desks offer better blood flow, keep your muscles active and put less strain on your back.  I regularly put a chair or a stack of books on my desk in my Detroit office and place my computer on top to avoid having to sit in a chair.
  2. Treadmill Desks: The value proposition of a treadmill desk is pretty straightforward: burn calories while doing the things you have to do anyway, i.e. working on your computer, answering phones, etc. Treadmill desks also come in the do-it-yourself version, usually found in home offices, but corporate offices are warming up to the idea in order to encourage workplace well-being.
  3. Standing Conference Calls/Meetings: At your next office meeting or conference call, encourage people to stand or move around.  You could even remove all the chairs from the room and encourage your co-workers to stand for the duration of the meeting or call. You’ll be surprised how energized and engaged everyone will be when their body is active and their mind is awake. This idea also works for social or happy hours, where employees will hardly notice the chairs are gone.
  4. Walking Meetings: Instead of holding one-on-one meetings in your office, take your co-worker on a walk and discuss your agenda on the go. A short walk is conducive to most work-related conversations and the opportunity to stretch your legs and get some fresh air will bring energy to your discussion and benefit you both.
  5. Promote It:  Keep reminding people that their health depends on not sitting for more than 45 minutes at a time. Give them the support they need to at least stand up at their desk and stretch once per hour.  Many times people associate working hard with intense focus and not moving around – this is a myth.

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Photo credit: gradyreese

This post was originally published on Feb. 4, 2013 and has been updated. 

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Read 7 Comments

  1. The benefits of the use of stand up desks are just so enticing. It’s a wonder why so many people are not using these in their offices. I’ve recently been working at home and have had this stand up desk for some years now Not only does it help with my blood circulation and back pain; it also gives my home office a sophisticated look. This should also be great for offices as well. It’s high time people themselves out of the rut of sitting for hours on their desk!

  2. This information is so true. Since I have worked at BCBSM (almost seven years) data verify– I now have right shoulder pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, aching arms, and neck pain. Keying all day at your seat puts pressure on my abdomen, that causes low abdominal pain, and also right hip pain. I did not have any of these before starting this job. I keyed, but I was up and down all day long. My symptoms started here and are progressively getting worse, even though I do get up for bathroom breaks. I never knew any of this before I started here. Yes more needs to be developed in data verify to change these “bad for your health issues.”

  3. Everything in moderation nothing in excess. I have been a Pharmacist for nearly 30 years, almost all that time was spent working on my feet. Many locations had rules against sitting down. Now years later I have back problems vericous veins and neck problems. I had to break the rules to bring in my own chair at risk of being fired, and never got to use it becouse it was taken over by my technicians. Lateley I try to sit down every couple of hours to relieve my back. Our bodies are not made to sit all the time or stand all the time. Either one is an abuse of the body..

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